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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 22:29 GMT 23:29 UK
More troubles ahead for Sharon
By Matthew Price
BBC Jerusalem correspondent

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Sharon is facing no confidence votes week after week
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has a pretty impressive list of problems.

He leads a minority government, he has just lost his parliamentary majority and his party is splitting.

Some senior members are already working out whether or not they might be able to overthrow him.

So Mr Sharon will be glad that Israel's attorney general has removed one cloud that was hanging over him.

When Menachem Mazuz telephoned Mr Sharon to tell him the bribery case against him had been closed, the prime minister's reply was simple: "Thank you very much."

Minority government

Left-wing opponents of Mr Sharon have said they will appeal to the High Court, but after such an unequivocal rejection of the charges by the attorney general, it would be surprising if that came to anything.

So now the prime minister can concentrate on the politics - and he needs to.

He heads a minority government, but he can probably last until the parliamentary break in August.

Shimon Peres
Peres wants the Palestinian involved in negotiations

This week he put pressure on his party members to make sure they support him in the weekly no-confidence votes that are held in parliament.

He told his cabinet colleagues they are not allowed to take trips abroad, to ensure they are also there to support him.

But one day soon he will need to find another coalition partner.

It is unlikely that will come from the right wing - which leaves the main opposition party, Labour.

Labour's leader, that elder statesman of Israeli politics, Shimon Peres, said he would not talk officially to Mr Sharon about joining the coalition while the corruption scandal still hung over him.

That obstacle has now been removed.

Settlement questions

Many commentators say Mr Peres is itching to get into the government again, possibly to take up his previous portfolio as foreign minister.

But it may not go as smoothly as that. Mr Peres supports Mr Sharon's plan to get out of Gaza, but crucially not in its present format.

When I spoke to Mr Peres last week, he said he would not join the government without changes to the Gaza plan.

He wants a full timetable to be drawn up. He also wants Israel to bring the Palestinians in on discussions about the plan. At the moment Mr Sharon says there is no one to talk to on the Palestinian side.

Mr Peres also wants to start negotiations on the future of the West Bank.

So far all Mr Sharon has done is to say Israel will leave four West Bank settlements. And he is continuing to build the West Bank barrier and expand settlements there.

So although one immediate worry has been removed by the attorney general, Mr Sharon faces a difficult time.

Difficult times, though, are when Israel's prime minister often flourishes.

The BBC's Matthew Price reports from Jerusalem
"Ariel Sharon will be delighted"

Q&A: Sharon corruption inquiries
15 Jun 04 |  Middle East
Profile: Ariel Sharon
21 Jan 04 |  Middle East

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